Your Toddler's Development: Building Vocabulary

Read how you can help build your child's vocabulary and encourage more abstract thinking.

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Talking toddlers

Your Toddler's Development: Building Vocabulary

One thing about most two-year-olds: You can't get them to shut up. Your toddler is constantly talking, talking, talking. Your child wants you to understand her experience, just as she herself is beginning to make sense of it. So she is constantly trying to communicate with you.

Your toddler's language skills expand dramatically in this third year. On your child's second birthday, she probably spoke around 200 to 300 words. By her third birthday, your toddler's vocabulary will jump to well over a thousand different words! What's more, vocabulary becomes a focus for your toddler's curiosity. Your two-year-old wants to be able to say more and understand more—and to do that, she needs to learn more words.


Early or precocious use of language is not necessarily a sign of your child's superior intellect. Likewise, comparatively slow mastery of language skills does not necessarily indicate inferior intellect. Remember that Albert Einstein didn't speak until very late in his toddlerhood.

Early in the third year, your child will employ language as one of her play materials. She'll use it just the same way she pounds and pounds on play dough: to come up with different shapes and see what she can make. Your child loves chanting, singing, and speaking the same words (or even just sounds) over and over again in a sing-song way.

Around her second birthday, your child may begin to put together two or three words to communicate a simple idea. At first, she'll sound like an old Western Union operator sending a telegram: "Dada, ball (STOP). Sara play (STOP)." But soon, your child will put together three-, four-, and even five-word sentences.

These sentences become increasingly complex throughout the year and may even begin to contain more than one idea. By her third birthday, your toddler may be telling you "stories"—perhaps narrating her life story to you, just as you did to her when she was younger. (In fact, if you listen closely, you might hear echoes of yourself and your partner as your child adopts some of your most-used phrases.) And, of course, your two-year-old will also ask you questions—incessantly.

How You Can Help Your Chatterbox

The best way to help your child's language skills is, of course, to continue to talk to your child—and listen to him. He can communicate ideas and experiences to you now, so you can have real conversations with him. Again, just as you did when he was a one-year-old, respond to your child using proper "adult" words (except perhaps for a handful of favorites that your child invented) and grammar. But don't bother correcting your child's word choices or sentence structure.


If you want to make sure your child understands what you are saying, look directly at him when speaking to him. If your toddler's eyes begin to wander, you've probably lost him.

What you talk about with your child matters more now than it did when he was one. Then, your purpose was to introduce your child to the sound of language and the notion of communication. But now that your child is two, understanding becomes much more important to both of you. As the year goes on and your toddler's language skills continue to mature, you can move from simple words and phrases to the more complex.

Try not to talk too far over your child's head. Certainly, you'll want to stimulate and encourage his desire to learn more. But this won't happen if you overwhelm him with a deluge of unfamiliar words. So talk about the way a ball bounces without getting into the intersection of the force of gravity with the Newtonian principle of energy conservation.

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